Surviving Conferences

3. Going to sessions

Always attend the keynote, this often sets the tone of an event and may well be referred to by presenters of other sessions.

Before each session that you attend read the abstract and devise a couple of questions that you really want the session to answer for you.

Pace yourself and be selective; you don’t have to go to everything and if you need time to reflect then build it in for yourself.

Don’t always expect sessions to deliver on the abstract – one good idea from a session – whether it comes from the presenter or your own reaction to it – is a good return.

Make a point of going to at least one session that you know is outside your comfort zone and will challenge you or introduce something new.

During each session, make notes on what other participants say as well as on what the presenter / facilitator says.

During each session, think who in your institution might be interested in, or might be able to use, ideas that you hear or have during the session. Make a note of their name alongside – and why you think the may be interested.

On the way out of each session you attend, have a conversation with somebody who was in the session. Elicit their view on the content, style or questions that were asked.

If, in the unusual circumstance, you can find no redeeming feature for the session you’re in, don’t leave! Plan how you would run the session to deliver the outcomes that were specified.

If you’re not enjoying a session always remember that someone may be loving it, don’t spoil the session by letting your boredom or irritation show.

When a talk comes to an end and the chair asks for questions, there is usually a slight pause die to ‘British’ reserve. If you want to get your question in, get it in before this reserve is overcome!



  1. Get to sessions early if possible. It’s not just polite, it’s a good opportunity to network with colleagues who have explicitly expressed an interest in the same issue as you by also choosing this session.

    Comment by John Peters — September 26, 2008 @ 9:43 am | Reply

  2. Note typo in final para: assume it should read “…slight pause due to ‘British’ reserve”.

    This is often the case, but the pause may also be to allow more established audience members to make the first observation on the session. You may unwittingly outrage the establishment by jumping in first with a question… but do it wittingly by all means!

    Comment by Virginia King, iPED — September 26, 2008 @ 12:06 pm | Reply

  3. If a session isn’t proving useful for you then try to think about another person in your organistion who might benefit – make some notes for them for when you get back. Try to think of the range of staff who work with you and find someone who would find it useful. It might be for someone you have never spoken with before, but that opens a dialogue and they will surely reciprocate with useful information for you in the fullness of time.

    Comment by Laura Dean — September 29, 2008 @ 11:37 am | Reply

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